Creating Effective Watermarking and QR Code Campaigns
Consider the example of a print advertising campaign enhanced with QR Codes, Digital Watermarks, or other embedded signaling. Whatever the signaling methodology, the technology itself is not the strategy. Instead it is merely a tactical weapon to trigger a desired consumer response.
There are basically four steps. First, is to identify a concrete action the advertiser wants consumers to take. Second, is to design an ad that will capture attention. Third, is to determine what embedded signal payoff might motivate consumers to initiate the intended action. Fourth, is to minimize the “friction” encountered to complete such action.
Concrete Consumer Action
Normally the ultimate objective is to get consumers to buy the advertiser’s product or service. But shoppers are constantly hounded to “buy.” Another mere voice in the crowd is more likely to be resented than appreciated. Instead, methods of engagement or intermediate calls-to-action often get better results.
For example, stimulating consumers to explore mobile-optimized web pages of the advertised product enhances brand awareness by providing consumers with more knowledge and experience with such products. In this context, online retailer Zappos is launching a QR Code campaign featuring tastefully censored photos of a nude model involved in everyday activities. The QR Code permits viewers to dress her appropriately for the pictured occasions using Zappos catalog clothes.
Examples of intermediate calls to action could include (1) sharing the ad on Facebook or (2) trading something of value in exchange for obtaining the viewer’s contact information with “opt-in” registration
It’s likely that most of the attention-getting factors applicable to print advertising remain the same as before. Ads that are attractive, clever, funny, thought provoking or – of course -- sexy, tend to draw interest.
For example, if the aesthetics of the ad copy are crucial, it may be best to use a Digital Watermark instead of a QR Code. As the Editor-in-Chief of House Beautiful Magazine put it, “Most QR Codes look like digital barnacles hanging from magazine pages.” The Zappos campaign noted earlier unashamedly uses sex appeal to arrest our attention. Finally, First Bank’s thought provoking bulletin board ads at the Denver airport enabled travelers to download free e-books, puzzles and games instead of having to buy them at airport shops. In short, the ads are novel in both a technological and gift-giving context.
Consumers are most often motivated to scan a QR Code or Digital Watermark when offered something of value. Sometimes, that’s easy, and other times it requires innovative thinking. From the advertiser’s perspective it’s helpful to think in terms of a give-away.
An “easy” example is an ad for a new motion picture for which the embedded code resolves to a website providing the movie trailer. Its effectiveness can be amplified in a couple of ways. One is to permit the viewer to share the trailer via Facebook and other means. Another is to utilize the location-awareness of the smartphone to point-out nearby theaters presently exhibiting the film.
An intermediate example is a discount coupon. In such instances it’s best to make the incentive unmistakable with wording such as “Scan this watermarked picture to save $5.00 on your next purchase.” As with the movie trailer the ad effectiveness can be multiplied by permitting Facebook and Twitter sharing and using smartphone geo-location to identify nearby retailers.
Sometimes a mere instructional video may be a valuable gift. Consider the case of a new product fulfilling a latent need, but leaving consumers puzzled about how to use it. A case in point might be an appliance that converts music from LP records into MP3 “on your iPod in a single step.” A video demonstrating the ease-of-use could prompt otherwise hesitant consumers to purchase the item.
The Zappos and First Bank campaigns noted earlier are examples of more creative free gifts. Essentially, both are giving-away entertainment. In exchange they gain the consumer’s good will as well as brand recognition.
Successfully motivating consumers to scan an advertisement’s embedded code is an essential step, but the campaign will fail if consumers don’t know how to scan, or stumble unsuccessfully through the process. Unfamiliar practices always encounter user inertia and present friction. Thus it’s essential that friction be minimized.
First, ads should be thoroughly tested, multiple times and on a number of popular devices. Nothing can be more frustrating to consumers than to “do everything right,” but get no results because of systemic errors inherent to the process itself.
Second, ads should clearly explain how to get the required reader-apps downloaded onto portable devices. Instructions on where to download such apps should accompany the ad itself. Reader-apps should be as universally applicable as practical. If possible consumers would prefer to avoid a need to use one app for Digital Watermarks, a second for Barcodes, a third for QR Codes and a fourth for Digital Fingerprints.
Third, since most scans will be made by smartphones – as opposed to tablet computers - it’s preferable the embedded signal resolve to a website optimized for mobile users.
Fourth, although signal-rich media is a technology and not a strategy, its novelty can be employed as a means of drawing publicity. Such publicity serves to increase consumer awareness thereby reducing friction. One way to attract publicity is to treat the campaign itself as a newsworthy event. Conventional public relations activities can create interest, interviews, and news stories about the campaign.
Presently more than half of mobile phones shipped are smartphones. There’s little doubt they’ll evolve into cognitive prosthetics. On-board sensors such as cameras and microphones will enable such units to transform all media types into Internet media. Such applications are beginning to emerge from the early adopter stage.
As for signal-rich print media, “crossing the chasm” into the mainstream requires attention to best practices. Effective ad campaigns should never consider the signal-rich technology to be “the strategy.” Instead it is merely a tool used to trigger consumer action.
The four necessary steps are (1) defining concrete actions the consumer can take to benefit the advertiser, (2) getting consumer attention in ways integrating conventional methods with the enhanced capabilities of embedded signaling, (3) enabling the embedded signal to exchange something of value to consumers thereby motivating them to take the desired actions, and (4) reducing friction in utilizing a signal-rich media process.